We are Hanno Beck, Lindy Davies, Fred Foldvary, Mike O'Mara, Jeff Smith, and assorted volunteers, all dedicated to bringing you the news and views that make a difference in our species struggle to win justice, prosperity, and eco-librium.
This 2013 of Common Dreams, Aug 28, is by Norman Solomon.
Every president who wants to launch another war can’t abide whistleblowers. They might interfere with the careful omissions, distortions, and outright lies of war propaganda, which requires that truth be held in a kind of preventative detention.
Obama has overseen more prosecutions of whistleblowers than all other presidents combined—- while also subjecting journalists to ramped-up surveillance and threats, whether grabbing the call records of 20 telephone lines of the Associated Press or pushing to imprison New York Times reporter James Risen for not revealing a source.
The vengeful treatment of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, the all-out effort to grab Edward Snowden, and less-publicized prosecutions such as the vendetta against NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake are all part of a government strategy that aims to shut down unauthorized pipelines of information to journalists —- thence to the public. When secret information is blocked, all that’s left is the official story.
From the false Tonkin Gulf narrative in 1964 that boosted the Vietnam War to the fabricated baby-incubators-in-Kuwait tale in 1990 that helped launch the Gulf War to the reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction early in this century, countless deaths and unfathomable suffering have resulted from the failure of potential whistleblowers to step forward in a timely and forthright way —- and the failure of journalists to challenge falsehoods in high government places.
The key problems, as usual, revolve around undue deference to authority —- obedience in the interests of expediency —- resulting in a huge loss of lives and a tremendous waste of resources that should be going to sustain human life instead of destroying it.
As a practical matter, real journalism can’t function without whistleblowers. Democracy can’t function without real journalism. And we can’t stop the warfare state without democracy. In the long run, the struggles for peace and democracy are one and the same.
Ed. Notes: Yet we can’t have either peace or democracy unless we win economic justice. The elite have no reason to respect you, not as long as they can syphon off our common wealth and everyone keeps silent about it. That surplus, it’s something society in general generates and can’t help but do so. That flow of funds belongs to all of us, not just those who loom over everyone else. It’s all of society’s spending for land and natural resources, all the things that didn’t require anyone’s labor or capital to come into existence. None of us made harbors or oil, all of us need them, and population in general create their value. Once we wake up to that, and share what already belongs to us all, then we will have closed the income and wealth gaps, have toppled the elite, and their drives to various wars will be no more.
Verizon’s $725 million loan shows Farm Credit reform is needed.
This 2013 excerpt of USA Today, Nov 14, is by Jeff Plagge, president of Northwest Financial Corp, chairman of the American Bankers Association. This article first appeared in The Des Moines Register.
The federal Farm Credit System was created nearly 100 years ago at a time when affordable bank loans for farmers were hard to find. Today is a $250 billion financial institution; if it were a bank, it would be the ninth-largest in the country. Not only is its funding subsidized by government sponsorship, it also receives very generous tax breaks — all while competing directly with banks and other lenders that do not share these advantages.
It also makes loans to whomever it wants -— such as those buying land for recreational purposes: developers of golf courses and luxury residential neighborhoods.
Recently it loaned $725 million to Verizon Communications. The Farm Credit System joined with 45 banks from around the world to help Verizon purchase the 45% of Verizon Wireless it does not already own from British telecom giant Vodafone.
Why should taxpayers be subsidizing loans to a Dow 30 company with $116 billion in 2012 revenues? It will not fund construction of any rural wireless infrastructure; it merely funds a corporate buyout. Verizon is not a rural telephone cooperative; it is a stockholder-owned corporation.
Should the government continue to sponsor an enterprise as large and unfocused as today’s Farm Credit System?
Ed. Notes: The author, being a banker, has an axe to grind, since public lenders take business away from private lenders. That aside, the bigger issue is: these deals are the main business of government and always have been: to serve business. The out-of-pocket expense to the taxpayer (as a direct subsidy to the FCS) might not be so huge, but that’s not the point. The point is, the loans are to the biggies, not the littles. Government involvement in a business does not lower its prices to the public; that’s not even touched. And competition — which should lower prices and raise service — is not increased. No, it’s just another example of the role government plays in the real world as handmaiden to big business.
If you want it to stop, you have to stop letting politicians spend all your public revenue and must start spending it yourselves. That is, limit the government’s discretionary power of the purse to defending our rights; use the bulk of public revenue to fund a dividend to the citizenry in general.
Where would government get the money? From taxes, fees, dues, and leases on lands, resources, airwaves, and monopoly privileges like Verizon’s utility franchise. Charge the Verizons of the world full value for loans and guarantees; don’t give them such favors at little or no cost. Run government like a business in the most basic sense of the phrase.
This 2013 excerpt of the Huffington Post, Aug 28, is by Shahien Nasiripour.
Regulators overseeing the nation’s largest financial institutions are distrustful of their bosses, afraid to speak out, and feeling isolated, according to a confidential survey this year of Federal Reserve employees.
The shaky morale is a legacy of Alan Greenspan’s 19-year term as Fed chairman. From 1987 to 2006, the Greenspan Fed pushed for a hands-off approach by regulators, who then found themselves blamed for the financial crisis that led to the most punishing economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Most say that top leaders are failing the organization, in part by not communicating honestly, and that employees are in the wrong jobs, or are poorly managed.
Even in a bureaucracy traditionally rife with turf wars and secrecy, the Fed stands out among banking regulators for its low marks on key issues such as trust and collaboration, according to comparable survey results from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
Nearly a dozen current and former Washington-based Fed employees corroborated the Fed survey results, some by offering personal examples of Fed regulators who had been marginalized after challenging senior leaders or pushed out over apparent personality conflicts. They all spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs.
Ed. Notes: Bigger picture: Should a society’s currency be run by a bureaucracy, never mind how well meaning (or not)? Could currency be handled by community trading groups operating on consensus? Could the role of government (which the Fed is not actually a part of) be simply to set standards that currencies would have to meet to become legal tender? We decentralize credit cards; why not decentralize the creation of credit?
This 2013 excerpt of The Guardian, Nov 11, is by Richard Orange.
Prison numbers in Sweden, which have been falling by around 1% a year since 2004, dropped by 6% between 2011 and 2012 and are expected to do the same again both this year and next year.
Sweden has experienced such a sharp fall in the number of prison admissions in the past two years that it has decided to close down four prisons and a remand centre.
Partial explanation for the sudden drop in admissions may be:
Sweden’s focus on rehabilitating prisoners may have played a part.
Swedish courts have given more lenient sentences for drug offences following a ruling of the country’s supreme court in 2011.
A recent shift in policy towards probationary sanctions instead of short prison sentences for minor thefts, drugs offences, and violent crimes.
In 2012, there were 4,852 people in prison in Sweden, out of a population of 9.5 million. Sweden ranked 112th for its prison population.
The US has a prison population of 2,239,751, equivalent to 716 people per 100,000. China ranks second with 1,640,000 people behind bars, or 121 people per 100,000, while Russia’s inmates are 681,600, amounting to 475 individuals per 100,000.
Air board will start monitoring pollution next to SoCal freeways. Similar steps will occur in more than 100 big cities across the country.
This 2013 excerpt of the Los Angeles Times, Aug 25, is by Tony Barboza.
Air quality regulators will begin monitoring pollution levels near major Southern California traffic corridors next year, for the first time providing data important to nearly 1 million Southern Californians who are at greater risk of respiratory illness because they live within 300 feet of a freeway.
Scientists have linked air pollution from traffic to a long list of health problems, including asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, and lung cancer. Children living near busy freeways have higher asthma rates and reduced lung function.
Scott Fruin, a professor of preventive medicine at USC, believes the EPA’s action is long overdue.
The new monitoring is likely to have broad implications. If, as expected, the new data show higher pollution levels, local officials should reduce emissions and curtail residential development near freeways.
Ed. Notes: Defending rights, such as our right to a healthy environment, that’s what government should do, even if belatedly. Government probably would’ve been doing its duty all along if not so beholden to moneyed developers and other corporations. If people want government on their side, they must have money on their side. We must stop letting society’s surplus collect in just a few pockets and share it among us all instead.
This 2013 excerpt of Inequality, Nov 8, is by Salvatore Babones.
According to the latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, real US gross domestic product (GDP) rose at an annualized rate of 2.8% in the third quarter of 2013, which covered July through September. For comparison, the long-term trend rate in US GDP growth is about 2% per year. If the overall structure of the economy remains the same, then higher GDP means more income for everyone.
Corporate revenues may be increasing slowly, but corporate profits are exploding. So are executive salaries and bonuses.
After-tax disposable income has been rising at a rate of around 4.5% this year, or about 3.5% after adjusting for inflation. Yet the income of the typical person has not increased at all for several years. In fact, real median income is still more than 7% below 2007 levels.
The economy is bigger than it was in 2007, but it’s a different economy. All of America’s economic growth for forty years has gone to an elite minority.
The economy isn’t to generate profit. The purpose of the economy is to serve the people. It’s time to consider a different kind of economy. One that works for everyone.
Ed. Notes: Reformers tend to make their goal of reform harder for themselves. Instead of slamming profit, they should demand that everyone get some.
Economies can’t help but churn out a surplus. It’s all of a society’s spending for the land and resources it uses. Such spending is a surplus because nobody has to be rewarded for producing nature since none of us did. People only need to be paid for providing their labor and capital, inputs they did provide.
The value of land, generated by society’s demand for the land, is ideal for sharing, for making into our common wealth. We could all pay Land Dues into the public treasury and get rent shares — a Citizen’s Dividend — back. Sort of like what Alaska does with some oil revenue and Singapore with some location value. Since site value rises with economic growth, then a rising GDP would , at last, lift all boats.
Want to Win a Political Debate? Try Making a Weaker Argument — the new social science behind why you’re never able to convince friends or foes to even consider things from your side.
This 2013 excerpt of Pacific Standard, Aug 23, is by Eric Horowitz.
There could be an entire book of syndicated newspaper columns that discuss “motivated reasoning” —- the tendency to interpret information in a way that confirms your existing beliefs. But research on human motivation also hints at a simpler and somewhat startling reason for the lack of flip-flopping: Nobody makes the type of arguments that are likely to change minds.
The arguments people make are those that appear the strongest to themselves and the people who already agree with them. But such arguments tend to be meaningless to people who disagree.
It starts with the universal desire to protect against threats to your self-image or self-worth. People are driven to view themselves in a positive light, and they will interpret information and take action in ways that preserve that view. The need to maintain self-worth is one reason we attribute our failures to external factors (bad luck), but our success to internal factors (skill.)
The arguments that are most threatening to opponents are viewed as the strongest and cited most often — yet rejected.
Because political beliefs are connected to deeply held values, information about politics can be very threatening to your self-image. If you’re wrong about an important policy, what else might you be wrong about? And if you’re wrong about a bunch of things, you’re obviously not as smart or as good or as worthwhile a person as you previously believed. These are painful thoughts, and so we evaluate information in ways that will help us to avoid them.
Self-affirmation —- a mental exercise that increases feelings of self-worth —- makes people more willing to accept threatening information. The idea is that by raising or “affirming” your self-worth, you can then encounter things that lower your self-worth without a net decrease. The affirmation and the threat effectively cancel each other out, and a positive image is maintained.
An argument that is objectively weaker is more likely to be below the threat threshold that leads to automatic rejection. It might actually be considered.
Why is pro sports constantly jamming military fervor down our throats? Their claims are wrong in more ways than one. Stop Thanking the Troops for Me: No, They Don’t Protect Our Freedoms!
This 2013 excerpt of Alternet, Nov 11, by Justin Doolittle of Salon.
What is problematic is that this nonexistent connection between “freedom” and the military continues to be perpetuated as an uncontroversial truism, and is met with no resistance within the confines of the mainstream.
The corollary to the claim that our freedom exists only at the pleasure of the military, of course, is that the same military can revoke said freedom if it so desires.
One implication of this myth is that people feel they owe boundless gratitude to the military as an institution and all the men and women who serve in it.
This approach blurs the lines between patriotism and support for the military.
It reduces sincere dissent on these matters of such tremendous consequence to our culture and our politics to nothingness. It makes us, free citizens of a constitutional society, meek and excessively obeisant.
The troops allowing us to “live free” is hardly a fringe belief. It reflects many decades of highly effective propaganda that has convinced generations of people that there is virtually nothing for which we should not thank the troops. The ability to “get away from our world, and whatever’s going on in our world” and talk about football — whom are we to thank for this? The troops! There is seemingly no limit to the scope of human activity that many of us sincerely believe would not be possible were it not for the military’s selflessness.
We need not thank the troops for every breath we take. When we do, we reduce our entire existence as free people to something that only exists at the whim of the U.S. military, and suffocate critical thought about the military and what it’s actually doing in the world.
Ed. Notes: Americans are not citizens so much as they are taxpayers, a mass market, and a pro-war mob. We Americans need to feel more self-esteem. We need to see how illogical it is to, one hand, praise the military going around killing poor foreigners all over the planet while, on the other hand, slamming politicians who send soldiers into these wars, who enrich military contractors and other corporate welfare cheats, and who keep cancerously expanding taxes and government.
One main reason to demand a Citizen’s Dividend is not that it will be won soon or easily but that even making the demand shows Americans what self-esteem looks like.
The biggest ongoing disaster in the United States you haven’t heard of.
This 2013 excerpt of Daily Kos, Aug 22, is by Jen Hayden.
What happened in Bayou Corne, as near as anyone can tell, is that one of the salt caverns Texas Brine hollowed out —- a mine dubbed Oxy3 —- collapsed. The sinkhole initially spanned about an acre. Today it covers more than 24 acres and is an estimated 750 feet deep.
It subsists on a diet of swamp life and cypress trees, which it occasionally swallows whole. It celebrated its first birthday recently, and like most one-year-olds, it is both growing and prone to uncontrollable burps, in which a noxious brew of crude oil and rotten debris bubbles to the surface.
But the biggest danger is invisible; the collapse unlocked tens of millions of cubic feet of explosive gases, which have seeped into the aquifer and wafted up to the community. The town blames the regulators. The regulators blame Texas Brine. Texas Brine blames someone else.
Appreciation Deprecation: Can property tax assessments be appealed?
This 2013 excerpt of Willamette Week, Oct 30, is by Marty Smith (Dr. Know).
I sympathize with the fact that the recovery of the housing market is eating into your beer-and-stripper money. But you touch on a damning problem with property taxation: Improvements to one’s property are punished with higher taxes, while neglect is rewarded with a lower bill.
Luckily, there’s a way around this. It’s called Land Value Taxation (LVT).
Like single-payer health care, LVT is a wonky good-governance idea that experts love and traditionalists fear. Thus, I’m surprised it hasn’t gotten more traction in Portlandia.
The idea is that you tax the value of the land itself, independent of improvements. Wanna spend your own money developing your property? Your tax bill won’t change. Wanna sit on a vacant lot in a desirable area while you wait for the price to rise so you can make a killing? Fine, but you’ll pay for the privilege.
LVT seems to have something for everyone, with the notable exception of real-estate speculators. Unfortunately, those speculators are often exactly the sort to be thick as thieves with mayor types. I just thank God that sort of chumminess could never happen here.
Auckland Homeowners benefit at the expense of other New Zealanders.
This 2013 excerpt of New Zealand’s Scoop, Aug 20, is by NZ’s New Economics Party.
Auckland homeowners profiting from booming house prices are really benefitting at the expense of the rest of New Zealand.
Spokesperson Deirdre Kent said “If all the private landowners and private banks had reimbursed the public for their windfall gains from rising Auckland land values over the last few years, the Auckland rail loop would have been paid for.
She said rising house prices are always due to rising land values. Land values rise because of the action of the community in providing hospitals, transport, roads, schools, sewage, water, businesses, shops and parks. So landowners should pay the public back regularly for this privilege.
“While we allow the private capture of rising land values, we can’t help but get a widening gap between those who own good real estate and the rest of us.”
A regular land fee should be paid to hold land while taxes on labour and sales should go.
Nature is not random. The laws of nature create structural designs like the roots of a tree. This phenomenon is explained by a theory called “constructal law”. This explanation applies to all flows in physics, biology, and human society. The term “constructal” was created by Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering, in 1996. Constructal law proposes that a system evolves towards maximizing the work done by flows of currents, relative to the inputs of matter and energy. The tendency towards better flows creates a hierarchical design.
In physics, work equals force times displacement. A force such as gravity or sunlight or a human action pushes and pulls things into a different speed or direction. A river does work by moving or displacing water. In the physical world (apart from biology), the natural tendency of flows such as rivers is to evolve structures that increase the flow of the inputs such as rain. This physical law then applies to living beings such as trees, which ingest water and other materials and move these through the organism.
The structure that maximizes the work of flows is similar to the roots and branches of a tree. Why is a tree not simply one long trunk, without branches, with leaves growing directly on the trunk? Because branching maximizes the work done by the flowing of the ingested water.
Much of what happens in nature is flows of materials and energy. Rivers are flows of rain water that start as creeks, creating a structure like tree roots, with small rivers flowing into larger rivers and ultimately a giant river such as the Mississippi. The water ultimately flows into an ocean, and evaporation sends it back into the atmosphere. This structure maximizes the flow of the water. The bodies of plants and animals too are flows of air, water, and foods taken in, which energize the body, become transformed, and then flow out. Your body is a dynamic input-output flow machine.
The constructal law is a law of evolution as well as structure. Systems like rivers and living beings evolve over time towards the maximization of the work done by flows. Human-built structures such as traffic follow the constructal tree-design concept; cities have local streets, larger avenues, and freeways.
Human society is constructal, but people in power can change the governing structures to conform to a greater or lesser degree with the concept of facilitating flows. If in a large country, power is centralized, so that the state attempts to plan the whole economy, this is in contradiction to constructal design. It is like a tree that has only a trunk. The economy will generate waste and function far below its potential.
Human economic action follows the constructal law by maximizing benefits and minimizing costs. In their book Design in Nature: How the Constructal Law Governs Evolution in Biology, Physics, Technology, and Social Organization, Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane cite the American economist Henry George, who in his book Progress and Poverty stated as an axiom of economics that people seek to satisfy their desires with minimum exertion.
Constructal law can be applied to governance with the concept of federalism, having several layers of governance. The lower or more local levels need to have some independence of decision making in order to enhance economic flows, as inputs get processed into products. A free market maximizes the work done by flows for a set of inputs, as the knowledge needed to process the flows of goods is decentralized. Knowledge itself has a tree structure, with some knowledge centralized into recorded forms, but much of the knowledge being decentralized ultimately in the minds of producers and consumers. Only you know what products are best for you, and the best use of your time and skills cannot be totally directed by others.
Optimal public finance can operate constructally with two principles. First, maximize the flow of revenues for collective goods by avoiding taxes on the inputs and on the outputs. That implies that there be no tax on the flow of labor, no tax on the value added by production, and no tax on the products. Instead, public revenue should be based on the potential flow of the surplus from production, and that surplus is land rent, which flows from the resources of nature.
Constructal law implies that the flow of rent not be collected by the central government of a large economy, nor by small neighborhoods. Like a tree that has both branches and roots attached to the trunk, optimal public finance proposes that the land rent flow from the roots, the residential and commercial title holders, up to the trunk, the county-level governance. From the county the funds would flow up to the state or provincial level, and from there to the federal or national government.
In an interview with The Freeman magazine, Bejan said that freedom promotes better designs, because constraints limit evolution towards better flows. Acts which are coercively harmful hamper the voluntary flow of human action. Therefore, governance can promote the flows of social and economic action by not restricting or taxing peaceful and honest human action.
Government should also avoid subsidies that alter the market prices of goods and profits of firms, since these also interfere with freely-chosen flows. The public goods provided by government become a subsidy to land rent, when that rent is not paid back to the providers. Constructal public finance implies that the flow of rent generated by governmental goods be returned to its source, creating a circular flow like the rain that falls on water and is then evaporated back into the air.
The prescription for a prosperous economy discovered by the French Economists of the 1700s and explained by Henry George in the 1800s is that which best implements constructal public finance: free trade and public revenue from land rent.
Why, despite our technological capacities, are we not all working three- to four-hour days?
This 2013 excerpt of the Sydney Morning Herald, Spt 3, is by David Graeber is a professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics. This article first appeared in Strike! Magazine, a radical British quarterly that covers politics, philosophy and art.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour working week. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen.
In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people in the Western world spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound.
Why did utopia never materialise? The standard line is the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. However, few jobs have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers.
So what are these new jobs, precisely? Productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be). What’s been ballooning are jobs in the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries such as financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors such as corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza-delivery drivers) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.
These are what I propose to call ”bullshit jobs”.
What does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1 per cent of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call ”the market” reflects what those people think is useful or important, not anyone else.)
There is a whole class of salaried professionals who, should you meet them at parties and admit that you do something that might be considered interesting (an anthropologist, for example), will want to avoid even discussing their line of work entirely. Give them a few drinks, and they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their jobs really are.
How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist?
The more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. What would happen were this entire class of people to disappear? Nurses, rubbish collectors, or mechanics: were they to vanish, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or stevedores would soon be in trouble, and even one without science-fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity chief executives, lobbyists, public relations researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.)
Ed. Notes: The solution is simple: an income apart from one’s labor or one’s capital but from the value of the land and resources in one’s region. Technology pushes up the value of locations and natural resources. Recover and share those values and we can work as much or as little as we choose, at tasks we choose, and play as much as or as little as we choose, too.
This 2013 excerpt of Total Investor, Now , is Mark Hollingsworth.
The UK population is expected to grow by 17.5% in the next twenty years. Already, the 2011 Census results show the greatest increase in the UK population since records began 200 years ago. Existing housing needs to increase by 29% by 2031 in order to meet the demand.
For investors, there is clearly an opportunity to capitalize on this housing and land shortage.
The key to its success is that land is acquired prior to actual planning permission being granted [when its price will be higher.
The share prices of the five biggest house builders rose by an average 71% last year.
Our preferred ‘land fund’ returned over 14% last year and returns are on track to be equally as strong this year on the back of further aggressive acquisitions.
Ed. Notes: Just as geonomists predicted, now’s the time to jump back into land. Even the “experts” say the time is right, but if they were really experts they would have told you to not invest in land seven years ago. The comforting thing is that we get to see actual principles in economies in operation.
We have now overshot the Earth’s resources for the year, meaning all consumption from here borrows from future generations.
This 2013 excerpt of Common Dreams, Aug 20, is by Sarah Lazare.
Tuesday, August 20 marks an unnerving annual milestone: “Earth Overshoot Day”—- when humanity has used up all of the natural resources and waste absorption that the Earth can provide in a year, meaning that human consumption for the remaining 4.5 months of 2013 is borrowed from future generations.
The concept, originally developed by the New Economics Foundation and carried forward by the Global Footprint Network, reveals a disturbing trend. “Earth Overshoot Day,” also called “Ecological Debt Day,” is arriving each year since it was first calculated in 1987, roughly three days earlier each year since 2011. Global Footprints says this trend is unequivocal since “Human consumption began outstripping what the planet could reproduce” in the mid-1970s.
The interest we are paying on that mounting debt are food shortages, soil erosion, and the build-up of CO₂ in our atmosphere.
Not all countries borrow equally, with Europe, North America, and Qatar consuming at notably destructive paces. If everyone in the world consumed on par with the United States, it would take four Earths to sustain the international population.
shaped by reality. In the 1980′s, the Swedish government doubled its stock transfer tax. Tax receipts, however, rose only 15%, since traders simply fled to London exchanges. Fearing a further exodus, the Swedish government quickly rescinded the tax altogether. (The New York Times, April 20) That willingness to tax anything leads us astray. Pushing us astray is that unwillingness to pay what we owe: rent for land, our common heritage. Assuming land value is up for grabs, we speculate. We cap the property tax on both land and buildings and the rate at which assessments can go up; while real market values rise quicker, assessments can never catch up. Our stewards, the Bureau of Land Management, routinely sell and lease sites below market value, often to insiders, says the Government Accounting Office. Once we grasp that rent is ours to share, we’ll collect it all, rather than let it enrich a few, and quit taxing earnings, which do belong to the individual earner. That shift is geonomic policy.
of interest to Dave Lakhani, President Bold Approach (Mar 8) and Matt Ozga (Jan 29): “I write for the Washington Square News, the student run newspaper out of New York University. Geonomics seems like it has great significance, especially in this area. When was geonomics developed, and by whom?”
About 1982 I began. Two years later, Chilean Dr Manfred Max-Neef offered the term geonomics for Earth-friendly economics. In the mid-80s, a millionaire founded a Geonomics Institute on Middlebury College campus in Vermont re global trade. In the 1990s, CNBC cablecast a show, Geonomics, on world trade as it benefits world traders. My version of geonomics draws heavily from the American Henry George who wrote Progress & Poverty (1879) and won the mayoralty of New York but was denied his victory by Tammany Hall (1886). He in turn got lots from Brits David Ricardo, Adam Smith, and the French physiocrats of the 1700s. My version differs by focusing not on taxation but on the flow of rents for sites, resources, sinks, and government-granted privileges. Forgoing these trillions, we instead tax and subsidize, making waste cheap and sustainability expensive. To quit distorting price, replace taxes with “land dues” and replace subsidies with a Citizens Dividend.
Matt: “This idea of sharing rents sounds, if not explicitly socialist, at least at odds with some capitalist values (only the strong survive & prosper, etc). Is it fair to say that geonomics has some basis in socialist theory?”
A closer descriptor would be Christian. Beyond ethics into praxis, Alaska shares oil rent with residents, and they’re more libertarian than socialist. While individuals provide labor and capital, no one provides land while society generates its value. Rent is not private property but public property. Sharing Rent is predistribution, sharing it before an elite or state has a chance to get and misspend it, like a public REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust) paying dividends to its stakeholders – a perfectly capitalist model. What we should leave untaxed are our sales, salaries, and structures, things we do produce.
the annoying habit of seeing the hand of land in almost all transactions. In geonomics we maintain the distinction between the items bearing exchange value that come into being via human effort — wealth — and those that don’t — land. Keeping this distinction in the forefront makes it obvious that speculating in land drives sprawl, that hoarding land retards Third World development, that borrowing to buy land plus buildings engorges banks, that much so-called “interest” is quasi-rent, that the cost of land inflates faster than the price of produced goods and services, that over half of corporate profit is from real estate (Urban Land Institute, 1999). Summing up these analyses, geonomists offer a Grand Unifying Theory, that the flow of rent pulls all other indicators in its wake. Geonomics differs from economics as chemistry from alchemy, as astronomy from astrology.
as unfamiliar as geo-economics. The latter is a course some universities offer that combines geography and economics. A UN newsletter, Go Between (57, Apr/May ’96; thanks, Pat Aller), cited an Asian conference on geopolitics and “geoeconomics”. The abbreviated term ‘geonomics” is the name of an institute on Middlebury College campus and of a show on CNBC. Both entities use the neologism to mean “global economics”, in particular world trade. We use geonomics entirely differently, to refer to the money people spend on the nature they use, how letting this flow collect in a few pockets creates class and poverty and assaults upon the environment, and how, on the other hand, sharing this rental flow creates equality, prosperity, and a people/planet harmony. This flow of natural rent, several trillions dollars in the US each year, shapes society and belongs to society.
a neologism for sharing “rent” or “social surplus” – the money we spend on the nature we use. When we buy land, such as the land beneath a home, we typically pay the wrong person – the homeowner. Instead, since land cost us nothing to make and is the common heritage of us all, rather than pay the owner, we should pay ourselves, our neighbors, our community. That is, we should all pay land dues to the public treasury, then our government would pay us land dividends from this collected revenue. It’s similar to the Alaska oil dividend, almost $2,000 last year. Indeed, the annual rental value of land, oil, all other natural resources, including the broadcast spectrum and other government-granted permits such as corporate charters, totals several trillion dollars each year. It’s so much that some could be spent on basic social services, the rest parceled out as a dividend, as Tom Paine suggested, and taxes (except any on natural rents) could be abolished, as Thomas Jefferson suggested. Were we sharing Earth by sharing her worth, territorial disputes would be fewer, less intense, and more resolvable.
a study of a phenomenon David Ricardo noted going on two centuries ago. When wine grapes rise to $10,000 a ton from the very best land (last year, cabernet sauvignon commanded an average of $4,021 a ton in the Napa Valley), then vineyard prices soar from $18,000 an acre in the 1980′s to $100,000 an acre five years ago and now for a top pedigree up to $300,000 an acre (The New York Times, April 9, via Wyn Achenbaum). Pricey land does not make wine pricey; spendy wine makes land spendy. While vintners make their wine tasty, nature and society in general – not any lone owner – make land desireable. Steve Kerch of CBS’s MarketWatch (April 5) notes that much of what a home sells for on the open market is a reflection of intangible factors such as what school district the house sits in. The price the builder has to pay for the land also tends to be driven by the same intangibles. Because the value of land comes from society, and because one’s use excludes the rest of society, each user owes all others compensation, and is owed compensation by everyone else. Sharing land’s value, instead of taxing one’s efforts, is the policy of geonomics.
a new policy from a new perspective. Once your worldview shifts — so that vacant city lots are no longer invisible — then epiphany. “Of course! Why didn’t I see it before?” Once you do see the emptiness and what damage it does, how can you ever go back to the old paradigm?
a study of Earth’s economic worth, of the money we spend on the nature we use, trillions of dollars each year. We spend most to be with our own kind; land value follows population density. Besides nearness to downtowns, we also pay for proximity to good schools, lovely views, soil fertility, etc. These advantages, sellers did not create. So we pay the wrong people for land. Instead, we should pay our neighbors. They generate land’s value and deserve compensation for keeping off ours, as they’d pay us for keeping off theirs. It’s mutual compensation: we’d replace taxes with land dues – a bit like Hong Kong does – and replace subsidies with “rent” dividends to area residents – a bit like Alaska does with oil revenue. Both taxes and subsidies – however fair or not – are costly and distort the prices of the goods taxed and the services subsidized. By replacing them and letting prices become precise, we reveal the real costs of output, the real values of consumers. Then, just by following the bottom line, people can choose to conserve and prosper automatically. A community could start by shifting its property tax off buildings, onto land – a bit like a score of towns in Pennsylvania do; every place that has done it has benefited.
a way to redirect all the money we spend on the nature we use – trillions of dollars annually. We can’t pay the Creator of sites and resources and are mistaken to pay their owners this biggest stream in our economy. Instead, as owners we should pay our neighbors for respecting our claims to land. Owners could pay in land dues to the public treasury, a la Sydney Australia’s land tax, and residents could get back a “rent” dividend, a la Alaska’s oil dividend. We’d pay for owning sites, resources, EM spectrum, or emitting pollutants into the ecosphere, then get a fair share of the recovered revenue. The economy would finally have a thermostat, the dividend. When it’s small, people would work more; when it’s big, they’d work less. Sharing Earth’s worth, we could jettison counterproductive taxes and addictive subsidies. Prices would become precise; things like sprawl, sprayed food, gasoline engines, coal-burning plants would no longer seem cheap; things like compact towns, organic foods, fuel cells, and solar powers would become affordable. Getting shares, people could spend their expanded leisure socializing, making art, enjoying nature, or just chilling. Economies let us produce wealth efficiently; geonomics lets us share it fairly.
an answer for Jonathan of the Green Party (Nov 7): “What does ‘share our surplus’ mean?”
Our surplus is the values that society generates synergistically. It’s the money we spend on the nature we use: on land sites, natural resources, EM spectrum, ecosystem services (assimilating pollutants). It’s also the money we pay to holders of government-granted privileges like corporate charters. We could share it by paying for the nature we use and privileges we hold to the public treasury then getting back a fair share of the recovered revenue. Used to be, owners did owe rent (“own” and “owe” used to be one word). And presently, some lucky residents do get back periodic dividends: Alaska’s oil dividend and Aspen Colorado’s housing assistance. Doing that, instead of subsidizing bads while taxing goods, is the essence of geonomics.
Jonathan: “Is local currency what you mean?”
Editor: It’s not. Community currency is a good reform, but every good reform pushes up site values. That makes land an even more tempting object of speculation. Now, any good will eventually do bad by widening the income gap – until you share land values.